With summer floods devastating southern, western and northeastern China, a massive oil spill smothering the Yellow Sea off the port of Dalian, 3,000 barrels of chemicals bobbing aimlessly but threateningly in the Songhua River in the northeast, and nearly half a million newly registered cars — just since January — on Beijing roads spewing who knows how much additional carbon dioxide into the air, you may think that the government is unnecessarily overreaching in waging a war on the disposable chopstick.
But start doing the math and the disposable chopstick, made largely from birch and poplar (and, less so, from bamboo, because of its higher cost) begins to look deeply menacing — an environmental disaster not to be taken lightly. Begin with China’s 1.3 billion people. In one year, they go through roughly 45 billion pairs of the throwaway utensils; that averages out to nearly 130 million pairs of chopsticks a day. (The export market accounts for 18 billion pairs annually.)
Greenpeace China has estimated that to keep up with this demand, 100 acres of trees need to be felled every 24 hours. Think here of a forest larger than Tiananmen Square — or 100 American football fields — being sacrificed every day. That works out to roughly 16 million to 25 million felled trees a year. Deforestation is one of China’s gravest environmental problems, leading to soil erosion, famine, flooding, carbon dioxide release, desertification and species extinction.